This is the city that gradually spreads on both sides of the beautiful Bosphorus
which was naturally formed early in the IVth Period of
Geology as the sea water occupied the deep and narrow valley. The city has been the
capital for three empires and been attractive for its historical treasure besides the
beauty of the surrounding landscape. In 660 B.C., the Megarians who were leaded by Byzas
for settlement in where today Topkapi Palace
stands erect, named
the city as Byzantion in memory of their commander.
When the Byzas, Megarians asked their prophets where to set up their home,
their prophets said against the land of the blinds. On exploration of the
Bosphorus the Megarians were fascinated by the uninhabited beauty of the landscape and as
the land across the water was already occupied by the Khalkhedonians, they thought one who
leaves such beauty uninhabited and lives against it must be blind and obeyed their
prophets foresight with pleasure. A century later than the establishment Byzantion
was occupied by Persians in 513 B.C. and then by Athens and Spartians. In a period of
conflict between Athens and Spartians, Macedonian Kingdom under King Philippos IIs
reign had become powerful day after day. Although this expansive Kingdom captured
Byzantion in 340 B.C., was unable to occupy. After Greece was dominated by Alexander who
took over King Philippos II, Persians were also attacked by him and Alexander got hold of
Anatolia defeating the Persians in 334 B.C.. Following the death of Alexander, the city
was governed by his victorious commanders until it was tremendously destroyed by the
Galatian attacks after 278 B.C.
In that period of fluctuation, Byzantion eventually was
dominated by Romans who were about to establish a global Empire
after the defeat of Macedonians in 146 B.C. and the city was governed under the force of
Roman State of Thrace. Roman Emperor Septimus Severus ordered total destruction of the
Byzantion and massacre of the Byzantians who were with his rival Roman General Niger.
As Septimus Severus would not easily give away such a strategic city,
later had it rebuilt and changed the name of the city as Antoneinia. The walls surrounding
the city were expanded, the square in front of St. Sophia Church was reorganized and the
road was connected from there to Cemberlitas. In 203 B.C., construction of a Hippodrome
was started and an amphitheater was built downhill Acropolis nearby Halic. Following the
defeat of his rival Licinius in 324 A.D, Emperor Constantinus (306-337) started the
foundation and development of the city. Initially the Roman Capital was thought to be
settled in Troy in memory of mythological Trojan Aeneas however then Byzantion was
preferred. The surrounding walls built by Severus, were rebuilt further away in 2.8 km
west. The Forums (Squares) were connected each other by roads within the
walls. Christian Constantinus had old Pagan temples repaired besides having built the
magnificent St. Sophia Church.
The restored city was named as Nea Rome and declared to be Capital in 11th May 330 with
a tremendous ceremony. Following the death of Constantinus, the name of the city was
converted into Constantinopolis. Later on, the name started to be pronounced as Stinpolis,
Stinpol, Estanbul and eventually Istanbul. The competition
between Constantinopolis as center of Christianity and Rome as center of Paganism outraged
and Constantinopolis became outstanding for Christianity. Theodosius I as a dedicated
Orthodox, suppressed the Pagans and in that period of turbulence divided the Empire into
two in 395 A.D.
That discrimination ended up with Western Rome, the capital of which was Rome, and
Eastern Rome, the capital of which was Constantinopolis. Getting advantage of this
division, Western Goths forced the walls of Constantinopolis. Eastern Roman Empire solved
the problem by appointing Alarik the king of Goths as General Commander of the Balkans
while Rome, the Capital of Western Roman Empire, was destroyed to a great extent as they
failed to perform such a policy (400 A.D). Having survived the occupation of Goths, the
Capital of Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinopolis, faced attacks from Huns (440) and could
survive only after the dispersion of Hun Empire following the death of Emperor Attila.
During this period under stress, the economy failed in Eastern Roman Empire, there arouse
deep conflicts between Ariusism and Orthodoxes and even the efforts of Theodosius
IIs were not enough to solve the problem. This was when the Halic and Marmara walls
were built inside the outer surrounding ones. So, the city was expanded two fifth of its
size. After the death of Theodosius, subsequent Emperor Marcianus in 451 invited the
Kadikoy Council to get together, with this unity, the Archbishop of Constantinopolis were
respected in equal highness of the Pope. Therefore, the Church also was divided into two
as East and West. Leon l, who took over Marcianus reign, invited Isaurians to get
rid of Aspar the leader of German Community in the Capital and Isaurians having easily
dominated the city, shortly took over the government on the name of their commander Zenon
and ruled for 15 years. In the meantime, Western Roman Empire was swept away from the
stage of history in 476 as a result of German attacks. Anastasios I, who took over after
Zenon, while trying to balance the economy, caused conflicts among religious communities
as a result of his discriminative attitude towards religion. Trying protect his crown by
extensive privileges given to the Orthodox community, Justinianus I (527-565), nephew of
Justinius, who took over right after him, reorganized the army and went for crusades to
enlarge the borders with respect to the former extent, therefore on his victory over the
Vandals and Berberis in Africa, Goths in Spain, rearranged the contemporary map of the
region as Mediterranean Sea to be a lake for Eastern Roman Empire.
However, he received disregard on his performance because of his
suppressive regime. Orthodoxes, The Blues who were the representatives of land-owners and
The Greens who were the representatives of tradesmen and craftsmen gathered in Hippodrome
and rebelled against Justinianus. During this rebellion dated 532 and named as Nika
Rebellion, St. Sophia previously restored by Theodosius II as
it had been destroyed before in a rebellion in 404, was burnt. This rebellion spread
throughout the city and a lot of blood was shed.
Following Justinianus, during Justinius II, Tiberius I and Mavrikios reigns,
Constantinopolis gained more importance each day being a milestone on the Silkroad of
China-India trade route. The city resisted the attacks from eastern Sasanians and those
attacks continued until 591.In Phokas Period (602-610), religious and political turbulence
started again until Herakleios who took over in 610 changed the policy and shared the
Anatolian land among the military executions called Thema. Instead of paid soldiers, with
the army gathered from Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Armenia, he regained the land once
lost. The state which is widely known as Byzance instead Eastern Roman Empire, had to bear
the Arab attacks in 7th century; in 673-677 Arabs kept the city under conquest.
Justinianus II, who took over in 685, performed a policy based mainly on peasants and
therefore, the aristocrats united with the Blues in 695 dethroned JustinianusII and
Leontios became the Emperor. This was followed by Tiberius counter rebellion and
dethroned Justinianus was recrowned in 705. Emperor Justinianus continue to lead the reign
until 711 when he was killed in a rebellion. While the Arab attacks were continuing,
Theodosios III became the Emperor. However his reign also didnt last long and in 717
Leo III was throned. Leo III supported iconoclastic attitude and had the busts of previous
emperors broken. The turbulence was persistent during the reign of his son, Constantinos
V. The city endured Arab and Bulgarian attacks and had hard times during this period until
the taxes paid to them were increased and trouble was suppressed. From 802 till 811,
Emperor Nikephoros l went over Bulgaria several times to get rid of the risk, however, he
was killed there. Although Arabs and Russians recaptured the city in 821 during Michael II
period, they were unable to occupy it.
When Basileios, who was a Balkan Slavian, converted to Christianism and making his life
as a horsebreaker in Constantinopolis, had the emperor executed and announced himself as
the Emperor of Eastern Roman Empire, his Macedonian reign, took over the Byzantine throne
in 867-1056. In 963, Commander Nikephoros Phokas II took over the Empire from Romanos II.
Commander Nikephoros Phokas II went eastwards and occupied Klikia, Cyprus and Antioch.
Then expanded upto Donau via Bulgaria and was killed when he returned to Constantinopolis
in 969. After Nikephoros Phokas II, Ioannes (Tsimiskes) I took over. While the struggle
between aristocracy and peasants were going on, the state was under pressure with attacks
from Seljuks on the east, Normans on the west, Petchenegues and Koumans on the north.
In a period when Roman and Byzantine
churches were gradually alienated towards each other, the public throned Romanos Diogenes
in 1068. Diogenes went over Seljuks on the east to get rid of their challenge however in
26th August 1071 was defeated in Manzikert and submitted to Alparslan. When the Emperor
returned to Constantinopolis being set free by the Turks, he was killed after his eyes
were removed. Taking over in 1081, Emperor Alexios started the reign of Comnenos dynasty.
As a result of Turkish threat on the east, Byzance supported crusades on the name of
Christianity. In 1096, the first crusaders arrived Constantinopolis having destroyed
Hungary and Balkans, the Emperor directed this army to Anatolia. However those first
crusaders were tremendously defeated by Seljuks. The same year, the second crusaders
started off and captured Antioch in 1098 and Jerusalem in 1099. Independent crusaders and
the Byzance had conflicts as the crusaders would torture the common people and destroy
wherever they stepped on. That was a reason for rebellion against them within the Empire
and Andronikos became the Emperor in 1183 following the rebellion. The outstanding
performance of the Emperor was to put pressure on the aristocracy saying Give up
injustice or your life. That motto widely received respect from the public.
However the aristocrats united with the outer forces got hold of Cyprus and Sicily;
then they went over Constantinopolis. Under such a pressure, the public rebelled against
the Emperor and lynched him. When Jerusalem was occupied by Selahattin Eyyubi in 1187, the
third crusaders started off. Th e fourth crusaders apt to go over Anatolia, captured
Constantinopolis and occupied the city. Therefore the Byzantines had to fight with the
Latins but were defeated and the city was destroyed.
Latins declared Baudin the Count of Flander as the first Latin Emperor of Byzance. The
new Emperor kept one fourth of the Empire and shared the rest among Venetians and other
crusaders. Therefore, three eighth of the land, the Bosphorus and the sea belonged to
Venetians. The inhabitants were kept under pressure and they seemed to accept the Latin
dominance. The grandsons of Emperor Andronikos I, established the Pontus Byzantine State
in Trabzon in 1204. Contemporarily, an exile government was established in Iznik (Nicaea) by Theodoros Laskaris. Kouman Turks and Bulgarians
defeated Latins in Edirne (Adrianople) in 1205. Then Constantinopolis had been a colony of
the Venetians, until it was occupied by Michael Palaiologos VIII, the Emperor of Nicaea.
That concluded the Latin dominance over Constantinopolis performing a dual policy between
Venetians and Genoeses.
The Empire declared Galata to be a free trade zone and Genoeses were
appointed to govern the zone. When Andronikos II from the Palaiologos dynasty was throned
in 1282, the Empire was suffering a depression in economy and a turbulence in military.
Venetians and Genoeses were in a limitless freedom to govern. When Catalans leader
Roger de Flor came to capture Anatolia from Turks but defeated in 1303, he compensated his
defeat by plundering Constantinopolis. In the same period, Anatolian Seljuksstate,
capital of which was Konya, dispersed under Mongolian invasion in
Following the dispersion, there were several independent Beyliks in
Anatolia. One of them was the Kayi Asireti in Sogut under
Osman Beys leadership who started the establishment of the Ottoman Empire later in 1299. Ottomans gradually transformed from a
small Beylik to an expansive Empire and they attacked to conquer Byzance
several times. However, in 1453, Byzance was conquered thoroughly by young Ottoman Sultan,
Mehmet II the Conqueror, while Byzance was under the rule of their last Emperor,
Constantinos Palaiologos XI.
Above text and pictures are from the book titled "Capital of Three Empires Istanbul".
You can purchase "Capital of Three Empires Istanbul" book and other Turkey related books from Explore Turkey Bookstore.